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Health Psychology Report
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abstract:
Original article

Healthy and unhealthy eating amongst stressed students: Considering the influence of mindfulness on eating choices and consumption

Simran Dutt, Rebecca Keyte, Helen Egan, Misba Hussain, Michail Mantzios

Health Psychology Report • 2018
Online publish date: 2018/09/21
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Background
Academic stress is associated with (a) increased food intake and (b) choosing calorie-dense food choices in higher education students. In this research, mindfulness was used to alleviate academic stress and, in effect, promote healthier eating behaviours and decision-making.

Participants and procedure
Ninety students were randomly allocated to either a mindfulness or a control condition. Both conditions exposed students to a stress-inducing task and levels of anxiety were recorded three times (i.e., prior to and after stress induction, and post-intervention) during the experiment. Chocolate and grapes were available to participants after the experiment as a token of appreciation.

Results
Intention-to-treat analyses revealed that mindfulness had a non-significant effect on increasing consumption of healthy food, but assisted the decrease in consuming unhealthy food when compared to the control group. The main analyses revealed that when mindfulness alleviated stress (i.e., by using the anxiety measurements as a manipulation check), students consumed more healthy food and less unhealthy food.

Conclusions
Mindfulness appears to enable better decision making as regards healthy and unhealthy foods when mindfulness meditation actually works. While the results appear positive, non-engagement with mindfulness meditation may necessitate the availability of other practices to reduce anxiety and stress. Clinical implications and the integration of health and wellbeing initiatives into universities are discussed.

keywords:

academic stress; anxiety; mindfulness; unhealthy eating; healthy eating

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